As we slowly make our way out of the pandemic, more and more people are looking to go back to work. While we may have been able to practice our art throughout the worst of the pandemic, and even played an essential part in helping ourselves and everyone else make it through, many of us lost day jobs, side jobs, and those opportunities to practice our art that came with a steady paycheck.
Regrettably, it’s not just Utica area artists who are heading back to work. Scammers see the gradual return to the life we were used to before as a new job opportunity as well. Here are just a few of the most common scams to target job seekers in the summer of 2021.
Academic or job training funding
Going back to school to earn a new degree or learn a new trade is a popular first leg of a “back to work” journey. As the recent quarantine and isolation has given many of us increased time for prayer and reflection, many have come to realize they need a change in the way they earn their living. They may decide to branch off into a new area of the job they do by day, prepare for a promotion, or veer off into a completely different career path, but none of those options is likely to come without a significant investment.
Most need some type of financial aid to cover the cost, and this can present yet another hurdle. Financial aid searches can be daunting and frustrating, with every program seeming to disqualify everybody over a single detail. It may be tempting to respond to organizations promising to streamline the process for you by taking your information, and producing a list of financial aid options tailored to you, for a small fee.
These are never legitimate offers. The same information is already available online for free. Sending in your money will only result in the company you hired disappearing, or at best, sending you a list you could have gotten yourself simply by typing “financial aid” into a search engine.
If a financial aid search is too daunting, visit the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend for help.
Fake Zoom Meeting Invitation
During the worst of the pandemic, we all grew accustomed to conducting face to face meetings, visits, and job interviews via video calls on sites like Zoom. While the offline, shared physical space version of in-person gatherings are slowly increasing, many find that virtual interviews and meetings are still a necessity for anyone who has not been vaccinated, as well as those who are, but may not be able to travel to get to an interview, or who may be dealing with other health problems that would necessitate avoiding close contact with strangers indoors.
This can make an invitation to a Zoom job interview or virtual job fair seem completely legitimate, and sometimes, they can be. But do some research before you click on that link.
Real invitations to gatherings held via Zoom come from the host of the event, not from Zoom itself. If you get an invitation to a Zoom employment event, write down the name of the sender, click out of your email, and research that sender to make sure it’s a legitimate company or organization. If you find a webpage, physical address, email address, and a phone number listed, that’s a good sign, but you are still not finished. Step two is to reach out to the company using their contact information, to make sure that they did in fact send you a Zoom meeting invitation.
Clicking on a Zoom meeting invitation link when you are not completely sure it was sent by a trusted person or business can result in malware being installed on your computer. This malware can be used to access your personal information, including your bank accounts.
Cryptocurrency investment scams
One unfortunate economic lesson of the pandemic is that a lot of paying jobs can vanish pretty fast. This leads many of us to work to secure passive income in addition to looking for a new paying job.
Investment opportunities vary, but the latest fad in the “how to make money” community is investing in cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and other cryptocurrency is a form of digital currency that only exists on computers. It can be compared to a casino chip or other token, but there is no physical object. The currency is made up entirely of computer code that is passed from person to person. There is no central computer that holds it all, and it is not backed up by any government or banking system.
The money advice website nerdwallet warns that because there is nothing backing it up, cryptocurrency is volatile, prone to extreme rises and falls in value from day to day. However, if you want to invest in cryptocurrency, or learn more about the option, make sure to stick to the websites of established investment firms that offer the form of cryptocurrency that interests you. Any other offer, website, or “opportunity” is likely to be a scam. Like the scholarship scam, these sites may charge for information or coaching that can be obtained free through an established investment firm, or they may be selling cryptocurrency they do not actually have and pocketing your money.
Travel scams are such “classic” scams, they’re a running joke in American popular culture. Who hasn’t seen a comedy in which a hapless, lovably naive character goes crazy over winning a dream vacation for a small processing fee or finding “the deal of a lifetime”? Cut to the next scene, and they’re gazing helplessly at the “L.A. Beach vacation” that turns out to be a skid row hotel room with a pile of sand dumped on the floor, or the “New York City arts tour” that only results in a bus dropping them off an at abandoned gallery in a crime-ridden neighborhood and driving away.
These types of scams are back with a vengeance now that people are once again traveling, both as a way to give themselves a break after the year we’ve all gone through and for work. And these new versions are often much harder to detect than the obvious “too good to be true” offers from the past.
One common tactic is the use of a spoofed website. These sites are carefully designed to look like the official website of real travel sites. Some of them even feature stolen recordings from the real sites.
The best defense against these types of scams is to go directly to a well-known, established travel website, or give a local agency some business and contact someone who specializes in booking travel in town.
Job searching this summer is difficult enough. Businesses complain nobody wants to work, but potential workers are actually sifting through positions that do not pay enough to cover even their basic expenses. Nothing can prevent substandard employment offers, but we can avoid the outright scams.
June 2021 is Pride Month for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community. This year’s official theme is “The fight continues..”
Those who are heterosexual and cisgender (a shorthand way of saying you identify as, or know that you were created to be, the same gender you were assigned at birth), can show support by being allies to those who are LGBTQ. Here are just a few ways to show your support:
Recognize that in some parts of the world, and even in many communities in their own country, our LGBTQ friends and family members do not get to take their safety for granted as often as we do.
The first paragraph past the introduction of this article was intended to be a fun, lighthearted “here are some businesses you can support, since they support gay rights” list. When a search was performed for travel companies, the first results that came up were not a list of airlines with the most LGBTQ employees or extensive histories of donating to gay rights groups. The first results were links to gay owned travel companies, followed immediately by pages offering safety information for LGBTQ people who may wish to travel.
The travel website https://www.asherfergusson.com, offers a list of the 150 worst…and safest countries for LGBTQ people to visit. Published in 2021, the article warns against travel to Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, Myanmar, and Barbados among others.
In the United States, nbc news was reporting that one in five hate crimes were anti-LGBTQ attacks as recently as 2018.
LGBTQ rights may have taken great strides in recent years, and society may have grown increasingly inclusive, but things are not completely equal yet.
Educate yourself on current threats to LGBTQ rights and take action when you can.
Another way to join the continuing fight is to keep aware of threats to LGBTQ rights throughout the country. The LGBTQ rights group The Human Rights Campaign offers a color coded map of the United States detailing which states have signed anti-LGBTQ bills into law, and which have introduced anti-LGBTQ bills. According to the map on June 2, 2021, threats to LGBTQ rights exist in forty-one states. Keep up to date and begin your research here: https://www.hrc.org/resources/state-maps/anti-lgbtq-bills-in-2021
When something comes up in your state, city, or county, take action. Attend meetings, marches, and information sessions. Vote for the bills and the candidates that support LGBTQ rights.
Respect individual comfort levels when curious about intimate details
Curiosity about people who differ from us in any way is normal and healthy. There is nothing wrong with wondering about things like surgeries and hormone therapies for transgender men and women, or how the private life of someone of a different orientation than you might unfold. But remember that just because someone is “out” about being gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and/or transgender, that does not mean the person cares to divulge details about their medical history or intimate relationships.
We cisgender people are open about our gender identities. We present ourselves as we feel appropriate for our gender, refer to ourselves with the appropriate pronouns, and openly use bathrooms and other public spaces assigned to our gender. And heterosexual people never have to hide it that we’re attracted to members of the opposite sex. Yet our attitudes toward discussing body parts, intimate acts, and our medical history and needs varies from the person who will tell you all of that as casually as they’ll tell you if they prefer coffee or tea, to the person who keeps all of that strictly to themselves, and everywhere in between. Those in the LGBTQ community are no different. If you truly must know something, do some independent research.
Don’t engage in…or tolerate…snowflake behavior from the left or the right
Your LGBTQ family members and friends need you to understand that they may not feel…or be…safe going into neighborhoods where homophobic attacks have recently taken place, vote for candidates who will protect their rights, and respect their individuality when it comes to learning more about their lives. They don’t need you to scream at every other straight person who chuckled at a joke that played off a silly gay stereotype, or lecture everyone who purchases a Pride themed item that other peoples’ sexuality is not a marketing tool.
Demanding that all LGBTQ people adhere to the latest form of politically correct speech and behavior to avoid “participating in others’ oppression” is also unsupportive and unhelpful….to the LGBTQ individual and to everyone else.
This does not mean you should tolerate or ignore homophobia or transphobia. Just make sure to fight against policies and behaviors that truly impact others’ well-being rather than appointing yourself thought or speech police for everyone else.
The question “When’s my pride month?” is childish and self-centered. LGBTQ Pride month stems from the Stonewall riots, a time when patrons at a gay bar fought back against regular police raids on gay bars. This was just the last straw in a pattern of police and other attacks on people simply for being of a different orientation than the majority or being transgender. Instead of whining that you don’t have a pride month for being heterosexual and cisgender, try being thankful you don’t need one..…and thinking about those who do instead of yourself.
If you are a member of a group who experienced prejudice and discrimination for some other reason, you probably do have a pride movement. If you don’t, and it upsets you, start one. You can do all that and still allow your LGBTQ friends and family members to have their Pride month.
Join in the celebrations for Pride 2021
As of the writing of this article, on June 2, 2021, there have not been any Pride 2021 parades publicized for Utica. But for those who can travel to the city, Pride will be returning to Manhattan this month. Visit the official website at https://www.nycpride.org/events to keep up to date on the parade and other Pride month events. Those who cannot make it into the city may want to consider a small purchase or donation.
You may also want to attend a smaller local event. Wisk Baking Company (formerly Bite Bakery) has announced a drag Pride Brunch, scheduled for June 27,2021. Tickets are $40 per person and include a full breakfast and unlimited beverages. Visit them on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/wiskbakingcompanyutica for details and updates.
Wisk Bakery is also selling rainbow cake slices in honor of Pride month.
Artist Cafe Utica would like to wish all of our readers in the LGBTQ community a Happy Pride 2021. We stand with you this month and always.
Between multiple jobs or projects in our art career, day jobs, side gigs, chores, and everything else we do all day, time to cook and clean up afterward isn’t always available. And when it is, sometimes the energy just isn’t there. Fast food is always an option, but it’s never as healthy, and never quite as good as a home cooked meal.
Acropolis Restaurant in Utica may be the perfect solution. One quick phone call to place your order and schedule a pickup time, and you’re looking forward to the best home cooked Greek dinner in town, without spending the time and effort to cook.
Each Friday, Acropolis offers a fish fry. At first glance, you wouldn’t think this dish would be anything special. A lot of places offer a fish fry on Fridays. But no place serves a fish fry that’s quite this good. Fish is not a favorite food of mine, but the large slabs of perfectly golden, yet still tender and flaky Haddock seasoned with just a hint of the juice of the lemon that rests on top, and dipped in the little cup of tartar sauce, quickly became the only fish I truly enjoy. Acropolis’ fish is served next to a side of Cole slaw, and resting on top of an order of the best French fries in town.
Those looking for a traditional Greek meal may want to try one of their “neighborhoods” or “plates.”
All I could say when I first tasted the “Lamb Neighborhood” was, “This is the best lamb I ever ate.” The dish consists of one skewer of lamb marinated in olive oil, lemon, and spices, a fresh Greek salad featuring a single stuffed grape leaf as an extra treat, Pita bread, and traditional Greek tzatziki dip. The only reason I didn’t want more is because the portion was so big, I was too full to take another bite of anything.
While the “neighborhood” dishes include a salad along with your main dish and pita bread, the “plates” are served with a side of cooked seasoned vegetables and rice topped with a tangy, slightly spicy tomato sauce. A plate of the rice and vegetables alone is available, and would be worth it just to have their sides. The vegetable are perfectly seasoned, and the sauce and rice is a treat all by itself. I tried the “Gyro Plate,” which includes slices of a gyro loaf made of beef, lamb, and spices. A bit smoother in texture than American meat loaf, this gyro loaf tasted like taking a bite of perfectly spiced lamb and beef gyro at the same time.
When I learned that I am partly of Greek descent a few years ago, I made it my goal to try as much traditional Greek food as I could find, and to locate the best Mousaka and Pastitsio in town. And here it is, at Acropolis.
Mousaka is pretty good anywhere, but Mousaka Acropolis has more eggplant and zucchini, more flavorful ground beef, and creamier behamel sauce than anywhere else. On their menu, Pastitsio is described as “Greek lasagna.” Lasagna has always been a favorite Italian dish of mine, so I especially looked forward to trying this dish. The description is spot-on. The flavor is definitely Greek, with different spices and a creamy bechamel sauce rather than the flavors found in Italian cooking, but it has the same comforting, tender layers of pasta as its Italian counterpart. As an added bonus, both of these dishes are served with Acropolis’ seasoned vegetables and rice.
Acropolis Greek Restaurant is truly the best place in town for those days when working on a project makes it impossible to prepare a home cooked meal, or when you just want to enjoy…or try….an authentic Greek home cooked meal. The meal prices are reasonable, ranging from $9.95 for the aforementioned Rice and Vegetable plate, to $20.50 for a Lamb Souvlaki plate, and $22.75 for a Grilled Lobster Neighborhood. Appetizers are also available, ranging from $5.95 for French Fries to $7.50 for a traditional Spinach or Cheese pie (Spanakopita or Tiropita) to $12.75 for a fried shrimp appetizer. Dessert selections include Greek Wedding Cookies, Rice Pudding, and of course, Baklava.
All prices and dishes were taken from the 1/7/21 edition of the business’ menu, and are not a complete list of the restaurant’s offerings. Visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AcropolisUtica for updated information and a copy of the current menu.
Acropolis is, as of the writing of this piece, open for takeout only, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 4:30p-7:30p. They are located at 621 James street in Utica. Once you check out their menu, place your order by phone at 315-793-1015.
Working Through is the fifth in a series of novels centering around a crowd of forty through seventy something artists from Utica, New York. In the latest story, struggling writer and first-time novelist Heather Toth and her fiance, musician Quin Sartini, land steady work in the arts, working for a woman who appears poised to launch as the next social media star. Working for Michelle Milford should be a dream, an opportunity for both artists to work in interdisciplinary arts, provide arts education, and earn steady income, all while becoming part of a little crowd that supports and encourages each other to do their best to serve others. But things do not often work out as they should…in the arts, at work…or in general.
Heather thought this type of thing would be in the past by the time she reached her fifties, and Quin neared seventy. She thought queen bees, the in-crowd vs. the outcasts, and most of all, bullying would be something they’d be helping grandchildren through, not dealing with themselves. But things are different when you’re an adult, and Heather does not need to take this type of treatment anymore. But what does that mean when you’re an adult?
Join Heather, Quin, Mindy, Brenda, Heidi, and the rest of the crowd from previous novels Lifting the Shadows, Chatting as Adalee, Mostly on the Internet, and Attracting Virtual Reality for a look at an issue often faced, but rarely talked about, among adults in the workplace.
Click here to order your copy from Amazon.
Jess Szabo is a writing teacher, novelist, and arts writer.. the owner and head writer here at Artist Cafe Utica. Her teaching work is done online, and includes students from across the country. Her arts writing and novel writing focus exclusively on the artist community in her adopted hometown of Utica, New York.
Most of us have needed a side gig at some point, but for a while, it seemed as though every “how to make extra money” or “find your side gig” YouTube video, blog post, website article, or podcast contained the same options. We were all told great fortune awaited if we just taught Chinese children to speak English online, became a “brand ambassador”, or partnered with a company that paid us to pick up and/or deliver groceries or takeout on our own schedule. And then suddenly….these weren’t being promoted anymore. “Side hustle” content creators have moved on to completely different things, mostly online sales and marketing.
What happened to these former “make money online” trends? Can we still supplement our art career income with these?
Teach English to Chinese kids online
VIPKid, ABCKids, and MagicEars appeared to be the most popular companies offering this opportunity, but they were far from the only ones. Opportunities to teach children from China to speak English seemed almost limitless. Teachers did need to have a Bachelor’s degree, but they did not need teacher certification or teaching experience. They only needed to be fluent English speakers, and willing to teach in the startlingly upbeat style taught by the company.
These were not promoted as “get rich quick with no investment” schemes. Both teachers and the companies’ web pages made it clear that you needed to have high speed internet, a microphone, and a quiet, distraction-free, and child-friendly space available in order to do the work. And while the corporations did not ask you for money, it was expected that teachers make a small investment in their teaching career by purchasing teaching aides such as cutout letters and shapes, puppets, props, and backdrops that made the teacher appear to be sitting in a classroom. But once you had all of that, you were on your way to a side hustle that could potentially replace the income of your current career.
As of the writing of this article, MagicEars, VIPKid, and a company called GoGoKid still maintain active websites, including links to apply to teach. The estimated pay ranges from $12-$26 per hour. They just aren’t the trendy thing to promote anymore. The only promotion of VIPKid and GoGo Kid found during a May 2021 YouTube search of “most popular side hustles of 2021” was from Rachel Cruze of the YouTube channel “The Rachel Cruze Show.”
Many more recent videos describe quitting, or even being fired from, these companies. The work is the same, reality has just set in for a lot of workers. Working for them really means working with them. You hire yourself out as a teacher to VIPKid or MagicEars or Gogo Kid, you are not an employee. This means you’re responsible for taking taxes out of your own paycheck, a responsibility many are not prepared to meet. Add to that the struggles of having to be at work at two, four, or six a.m. your time in order to meet the scheduling needs of students in Bejing, and the difficulty of recruiting and keeping your own students within the platform, and the work is just much more difficult than the brightly colored ads featuring teachers beaming into their laptops make it seem.
Sign up as an “influencer” or “brand ambassador” and share what you love
The most common way to bump into this side hustle opportunity in the past few years has been to join an online group dedicated to budgeting, frugal living, making money, or coping with work stress and share your story. Someone will likely comment offering you an opportunity in network marketing. For a small startup fee, you can earn money the way your favorite content creators on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok do, simply by sharing great products and talking about the things you love.
This one is still going strong. It is just increasingly being exposed for what it really is, the same old multilevel marketing companies that have been around longer than any of us reading this have been alive on this earth. They just changed the wording to make it more appealing, and to disguise what those they recruit are truly involved in.
A real brand ambassador is paid by the company for promoting the brand. That’s it. They promote the brand, and they get paid. A real influencer is someone who has built a large social media following, regardless of whether they’re making money from influencing their audience or not. When you pay a company to send you a sales kit, you can call it whatever you want, but you just hired yourself out as a salesperson for a multilevel marketing company. You won’t be earning any money unless you sell their products, or recruit others to sell their products.
Artist Cafe Utica is no longer a part of the anti-MLM community in that we no longer criticize anyone who chooses to work with these companies. If you really like Arbonne, Avon, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, or any of the other multilevel marketing company products out there and want to sell for them to try to earn some free products and maybe a little extra cash, go for it. But this is not a pro-MLM or network marketing site either. Multilevel marketing companies are set up to ensure success for the top one to three per cent by taking advantage of everyone below them, and that alone makes them something we cannot recommend as a side hustle.
Work as a driver or delivery person on your own schedule
Driving for companies like Uber, Lyft, GrubHub, DoorDash, and in some cities,Postmates is still a viable option for those who want to drive as a side hustle. Video titles on YouTube have just gone from things like, “I made eight thousand dollars a month driving!” two years ago, to “Why you shouldn’t drive…” in the past eight or ten months.
Like the “teach Chinese children to speak English” work, driving for these companies isn’t them giving you a job. It’s you hiring yourself out as an independent driver or delivery person to the company. You’re responsible for paying your own taxes and other expenses that come with using your car as a rideshare or delivery vehicle.
This work is also not the guaranteed money maker ads screaming “Make $30 an hour with (name of company!) make it seem. You get to set your own schedule, but if you aren’t available to work when people want rides or takeout or grocery delivery, you aren’t going to make much, if any, profit.
“Best side hustle” videos can be fun to watch, and generate useful ideas for making money. But like most online content, creators often follow trends and fads. It’s always important to take a step back and get a bigger, clearer picture of any side hustle work you find.
“Cancel culture” refers to the practice of deliberately ruining someone’s career and shunning them socially, as punishment for something they have done or are believed or perceived to have done. Some argue that it does not exist, and is merely an invention of people who do not agree with them politically, meant to distract us from real issues. But only the term is new.
“Cancel culture” is shunning. Once someone is “cancelled” they are considered all but physically banned from society. The work of someone who has been “cancelled” is deemed inferior and irrelevant, even if it had been hailed as genius, or had some other beneficial impact on society, in the past.
People across the political spectrum participate in cancel culture.
“Cancel culture” is often associated with liberals attempting to rid the world of everything they do not deem “politically correct.” And this is sometimes true. But conservatives also engage in the practice. Former President Donald Trump often speaks out against political correctness and cancel culture, but is in fact a major practitioner of it. In a February 3, 2020 article in USA Today, writer Jeanine Santucci describes more than ten instances in which Trump has attempted to ruin a company or individual because they did, said, or supported something he found offensive.
Liberals and conservatives tend to be “offended” by and seek to cancel people for different things. Cancel culture supporters on the left typically attempt to ruin and shun people for content or behavior they perceive as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or anti-immigrant. Cancel culture supporters from the right more often target people they believe to be anti-capitalism, against organized religion or Christianity, anti-military, or behaving in a way that disrespects the American flag or those they admire from American history. In any case, the goal is to ruin and shun someone for doing something you find offensive.
People across the political spectrum also fight against cancel culture.
Focus on the Family has long been known as a conservative organization. It is among the last place one would expect liberals to be praised. Yet even Focus on the Family has found some common ground with people they disagree with on most, if not all, other issues. On July 10, 2020, writer Zachary Mettler published an article in which he praised one hundred and fifty-three prominent liberal activists for signing a letter warning against cancel culture.
While “cancel culturalists” from the right and the left tend to attack for different reasons, the dangers of “cancel culture” appear to be one of the few things those across the political spectrum can agree on.
People of all political belief systems, races, genders, sexual orientations, and every other category are “cancelled’.
Anybody can get cancelled by anyone else. Essayist, Comedian, and Documentary Filmmaker Shane Dawson is openly gay, and is engaged to a man. He is currently considered “cancelled” due to material from more than a decade ago. Over the past several years, Dawson has openly stated that past comedy routines in which he mocked child abusers in a joking manner, and created characters that embodied crass racial stereotypes were immature, insulting, inaccurate, and not something he would ever do or support anyone else doing today, as a mature adult in his thirties. Dawson’s recent projects have included biographical videos on famous people, research into urban legends and myths, and social experiments. But once someone re-posted the old content and criticized it again in recent years, an online backlash occurred that led to Dawson’s career shutting down for more than a year as of the writing of this article. He is said to be making a slow comeback, beginning with editing his fiance’s YouTube videos and podcasts, but the couple continues to face harsh backlash for the content from the distant past.
Cancel culture is not the same thing as holding people accountable for their actions.
You are held accountable for your actions when you experience the direct consequences of something you actually said or did. If you run a website that is hypercritical of your hometown, and most people in your hometown refuse to follow you on social media or read your articles, that is a natural consequence of your actions. If one of those people tries to get you fired from your completely unrelated job, tries to get the blog and anything else you write taken down, and pressures others into refusing to work with you, that is cancelling.
In many cases, someone does not even have to do anything wrong in order to be cancelled. There only has to be the opinion, perception, or even accusation that they have done something wrong.
Fans of writer Philip Roth eagerly awaited the publication of Blake Bailey’s biography. Some people were able to purchase the book, but it has since been removed from publication and circulation. Calls to wipe Bailey’s work out of existence completely soon followed. The attempts to cancel Bailey from the field of literary biography are in response to accusations of sexual assault. Bailey has not been formally charged, tried, or convicted of sexual assault as of the writing of this article. His work is being wiped out of existence based on accusations and rumors alone.
University of Southern California Business Professor Greg Patton narrowly escaped being cancelled in 2020 after a video of him teaching a communications class about pauses and filler words offended some members of the class. Patton was not fired, but was removed from the classroom and forced to formally apologize when some students, using an invented group name, wrote a letter claiming that Patton had used something that sounded like the “N” word in English in his class.
Patton had not used that particular word, nor did he make any type of racial slur about anyone’s ethnic background. The word he used was a Chinese word that translates as “that,” but is used a bit like English speakers use “ummm.” But someone in class complained, so he lost his course for the term.
Personal refusals to purchase or support something are not cancelling;cancelling removes others’ right to make that same decision for themselves.
You…and Donald Trump…have every right to refuse to support any business or franchise that displeases Donald Trump in any way. You may absolutely decline to buy something because you find the imagery racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-American, anti-capitalist, or anti-Christian. YouTube fans who refuse to subscribe to Dawson’s YouTube channel or purchase his books, USC students who don’t want to take a class with Patton, and people who decide they don’t want to buy Bailey’s books are all within their rights as individuals. That is a very different thing than setting out to have something or someone erased, so that nobody else is permitted to make that same decision for themselves. It is also very different than working to ruin and shun someone because they’ve done something you have freely chosen not to support.
Whether you want to call it “cancel culture,” or use the older term “shunning,” working to ruin anyone who is even accused of or rumored to have done something wrong, along with anyone who offends us for any reason, is a dangerous social trend.
Many films, novels, songs, paintings, poems, and plays are inspired by other art, or by other parts of the artist’s culture. Urban legends are certainly a big part of our culture, whether we realize it or not. Chances are, you have seen, or even created, a piece of art based on an urban legend. Most of these are easily debunked. Some turn out to be true. But they can all generate ideas for our work.
The Man Who Changes Tires
A strange encounter at the mall startles you.
You are at the mall. If you’re like me, you are there because you need exercise, or because the mall contains the only branch of a store that sells something you need and can’t find anywhere else. If you’re like a lot of people, you are actually having fun, trying on new outfits, sampling perfumes and makeup, and hanging out with friends. Either way, you are exhausted at the end of the day. Suddenly, a woman shoves a flier into your hand. It is tempting to simply wait until she’s not looking and shove it into a trash or recycling bin, but as you glance at it, a few words jump out that make you keep reading. The flyer warns of a man trying to trick women into letting him into their car by pretending to help with a flat tire. You ask the woman for the full story. She pauses in stopping people to explain.
A security guard was startled to see a frantic customer.
Last week, at this very mall, a security guard was startled to see a woman he had just noticed walking out a few minutes before come frantically running back in and head straight for him. The customer begged him to come out to the parking lot with her, and to call the police.
As the guard and the customer headed across the mall, the woman explained that she was loading bags of clothing and cosmetics she’d purchased into her trunk when a man she had never met before approached her. The man did not stand out in appearance. He was clean and dressed neatly in clothing popular with many men today.
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” he said, “I noticed that your tire is looking a little flat. Why don’t you move those bags into the back seat and let me get your spare tire to change it for you?”
The woman was touched someone would notice such a detail about a stranger, and moved that someone would go out of their way to help, so she thanked the man and moved the packages. The man changed the tire, and the woman thanked him and started to climb into her car.
“Hey,” the man said, “I’m late now. I have a job interview to get to, and my car is parked all the way on the other side of the mall. Would you mind giving me a quick ride over, so I can head out right away?”
That “little voice” told her to run.
The request struck the woman as odd. If his car were parked on the other side of the mall, and he remembered parking over there, why did he walk out the door to this section of the parking lot? The woman began to feel frightened.
“I forgot I needed to pick up some socks while I was here,” the woman said. “Watch my stuff and I will be right back.” She ran back into the mall, and told the security guard what had happened.
The guard agreed this was a suspicious situation. He accompanied the woman to her car. When she checked to see if the stranger had stolen any of her purchases, everything was intact. But when she opened her trunk, she was greeted by the sight of a strange gym bag. The security guard peered into the bag and looked up at the woman, all the color drained from his face. The stranger had slipped a bag containing rope, tape, and other items he could use to commit kidnapping, rape, and possibly even murder into her car.
Is it true?
There is no evidence that this particular story ever took place, but dangerous people have used fake offers of help, or fake pleas for help to lure victims. Ted Bundy was known to pretend to have an injury in order to trick his victims into helping him load books into his car. Far from being a kind fellow student in need of help, Bundy would come to be known as one of America’s most famous serial killers, and a near “perfect” textbook psychopath.
While we have not all encountered someone who was later revealed to be a serial killer, most of us have been approached by someone who set off warning bells about trusting them. Most of us have encountered someone who frightened us, or whose presence made us uneasy, despite them initially appearing helpful or friendly.
A few years ago, I lived in a town full of people who could not seem to understand that I took walks for exercise. Every time I would leave the house, somebody who knew me or one of my parents would be pulling up near me and asking me if I needed a ride. It was annoying to have to politely explain to people, often the same people over and over again, that I was taking a walk, and assure them that I knew how to call a cab if I needed a ride.
During one walk, I turned toward the standard “Do you need a ride?” offer to see a man I had never seen before leaning out the car window.
“No,” I said firmly, and turned away. Suddenly, the “helpful stranger” turned aggressive.
“Get in the car!” The man ordered me. He was parked a bit behind me, so I could not see if he had a weapon in his hand. I moved further away from him, closer to the houses along the road, and purposely screamed as loud as I could.
“I said ‘No!’ I yelled toward the homes. “I don’t want a ride!” I sounded childish and overly dramatic, even to myself. But that was the idea. I hoped somebody would mistake me for a disrespectful child or a woman fighting with her friend or boyfriend, and come outside to tell “the kid” or “that couple ” to shut up. I needed witnesses, not new friends.
As soon as the nearest house’s resident came out to see what was going on outside his fence, the man in the car sped off without another word. I explained the situation to the resident, and thanked him for coming outside. After a few minutes had passed, I purposely walked away from the direction the stranger in the car had gone, but also away from the direction of my own house in case he was waiting someplace to follow me. I walked around other populated areas, around a block near an open, well-lit, and populated grocery store a couple of times, and then went home using a different route than the one I typically took.
I never saw the car or the man again, or learned who he was or what he might have done to women who accepted his offer of “help” and climbed into his car. But considering that he seemed about to force me into the car when I refused, and sped off when faced with a woman who might fight back and a witness, I’m guessing he wasn’t really going around town hoping to save people a few bucks on cab fare.
Urban legends vary in truthfulness, with some being completely true, some being entirely invented, and some containing elements of true stories. In the “Help a stranger danger” legend detailed above, the basic plotline of someone pretending to offer or need help is certainly true, though the details about changing the tire, leaving the gym bag, and the woman going back in and finding the security guard were invented in a later version.
While the basic plotline has been used several times, every other detail can be fictionalized from a true story, or changed from a debunked legend to create a new plot for a novel, short story, play, poem, or even a song.
Any artist who writes, acts, sings, or performs comedy works in words, and just like any other material an artist can use to create, words can come to be used differently over time, or they may be used differently by one group of people than another. Here are just a few words and terms whose use in contemporary American popular culture is a bit different than their original meaning or context.. Including these words here is not meant to imply support or criticism of any use of the word. These are only described to generate ideas or notes for creating characters, routines, or other works of art in which the words might be used.
Triggered/Triggering: This is a hated word for many, one that causes some listeners and readers to cringe, roll their eyes, and ignore the writer or speaker. There are two reasons for this. One, the contemporary, popular meaning is extremely broad. Those classified as “Millenials (born 1981-1996) and younger seem to use this term the most, but it is not exclusive to those forty and under. People describe themselves as “triggered” or something as “triggering” when they mean they find it irritating, upsetting, annoying, disgusting, depressing, discouraging distressing,anxiety provoking, or in any other way bothersome.
Another reason this term tops the “hated words list” for many is because they think the person using it in place of so many other words or saying they’re “triggered” when they are in fact “dismayed” or “discouraged” or “upset” by something, unfairly equates the normal ups and downs of everyday life with the experiences of people who are “triggered” in the original sense of the word. Before “triggered” came to mean “upset in any way,” it was strictly used to describe the experiences of those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, a serious and often debilitating response to experiencing trauma, such as war or violent crime.
Lolita: In popular American culture, a “Lolita” is an attractive, seductive girl or very young woman who is just over the legal age of consent, or who is legally an adult, but still very immature and inexperienced and completely inappropriate for the man who is attracted to her. Popular films such as 2006’s “Mini’s First Time,” in which an older teen begins working as an escort and seduces the man who is officially in a relationship with her mother, are described as “Lolita” stories. There is also a fashion style known as “Lolita style” or “Lolita fashion.” Originating in Japan, the aestetic of “Lolita fashion” centers around looking “cute” and maintaining a doll-like appearance.
But there is nothing seductive, cute, or in any way pleasant or enticing about the novel “Lolita,” the source of the term. In Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, whose name is simply a nickname for “Dolores,” is far from sexy or seductive. And Humbert, the man who tells the story and interacts with the original “Lolita,” is neither the reluctant target of her attentions we so often see in popular “Lolita” films, nor is he simply someone who admires her for being “cute,” as one might react to a fashion trend. Both the character of Humbert and the plot are repulsive, and Lolita is a tragic figure. She’s a child, and he’s a pedophile who grooms and molests her.
Safe space (as used on college campuses): The most contemporary meaning of the term “safe space” refers to a place where people can go when they become distraught over anything that may be happening on their campus, or in the world around it. In such a space, the person is shielded from dealing with whatever may be causing distress, and is allowed to perform a variety of non-threatening, relaxing activities such as looking at pictures of cute animals, coloring, or sharing their feelings with someone else who is not permitted to criticize or judge them. Some people praise this as a necessary and compassionate way to protect the mental health of the community. Others criticize this practice, arguing that it teaches people to make everything about themelves and their feelings rather than learning to analyze, debate, and work to solve problems in society. Regardless of whether you support this or find it ridiculous, the term “safe space” meant something different many years ago.
“Safe space” used to refer specifically to a place people could go if they believed themselves to be in physical danger, a place that was always open, well-lit, and staffed with someone who could call security to arrange for someone to ride or walk home with a member of the community who was being followed or harassed, or who was intoxicated or otherwise unable to safely navigate their way home alone. Later, when paired with symbols of LGBTQ pride, it came to refer to a staff member or organization who would not shun someone for being a member of the LGBTQ community. The term may still be used in the two older ways in some communities.
Journey: In its traditional meaning, the word “journey” always refers to a long, usually meaningful, physical trip a person might take. If you and your friends travel from your hometown of Utica, New York to Tokyo, Japan, you might describe that as your “journey” to Tokyo. But if your friend called and asked if you’d like to have dinner at the Japanese restaurant four blocks from your apartment, you would be very unlikely to describe such an outing as your “journey” to dinner.
Today, the word “journey” is still used in its original manner when describing a physical trip, but it is also used to describe anything someone might go through, or a process someone might move through to reach a goal. Some people restrict their use of the word “journey” in this way to life altering, important events. A person describing what they went through during treatment for cancer or Covid-19 or a broken leg or back may describe it as a journey. Or they might describe something they must cope with for their entire time on this earth, such as Cerebral Palsy or a mood disorder, as a “journey.” Others use “journey” to describe things that are much more lighthearted and trivial, such as reaching a personal or professional goal. You might hear someone speak of their “Spanish journey” when describing their efforts to learn the language, or describe their home makeover as “quite a journey.”
Having a hustle/hustling: Seventies disco dance fad cracks aside, someone “having a hustle” used to imply that the person earned money in a less than honorable, upfront manner. Their method of earning money may have been illegal and/or unethical, or it may have just been a little less than completely upfront and honest, such as insisting that their product and their product alone would effectively clean your house siding or give you long lashes or provide all the nutrition you need, when it was the same cleaning method, mascara, or vitamin supplement available from several other sources.
Today, “having a hustle” or “hustling” is often used to describe someone who is entepreneurial. It means they are doing some type of work for themselves, with the goal of raising money. A person who tutors in a subject outside of their career field, does lawn care to help support their career as an artist, or refurbishes and sells furniture in addition to working a traditional nine to five office job “has a hustle.” If the term “side hustle” is used, it means the work is done to supplement their steady income.
How might your character or scene change if a word is used in an older meaning, versus a more modern one, or if you add a character who uses one of these terms in a more contemporary way?
There seems to be a fresh crop of everything in the spring. It brings new flowers, vegetables, colors, academic semesters, plans….and scams.
While we are all alert and vigilant enough to see right through these, it is important to keep them in mind in order to help a family member or friend who may be vulnerable due to the impaired judgment or mental fog that can be a side effect of the increased isolation, job stress, financial stress, and other issues we have all been coping with over the past thirteen months.
Here are just a few of the most common fake claims circulating online this season.
Get additional funds added to your 2021 stimulus payment
According to a March 12, 2021 article by the Better Business Bureau, scammers are sending out email and text messages designed to look as though they are from the government. These messages state or imply that you may be able to get additonal direct deposits, checks, or pre-paid debit cards with additional stimulus funds, and invite you to click on a link and enter your information “to ensure that you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to receive.” Once you click on the link, the form that appears on your screen asks for the standard information you would enter on a government form.
Do not click this link or fill out any forms. The contact information, and the screen belong to the scammer, who can then use your personal information to commit identity theft. The scammer may also demand a “processing fee” for money they claim you can collect, or install spyware on your computer that grants them access to your banking information.
Use your stimulus money…or any money you have…to help a friend or family member
The stimulus checks are a means for many of us to help others who may have fallen on financially difficult times over the past year, and the scammers are all too aware of this. This scam appears to be particularly popular on “WhatsApp,” an instant messenger app intended to be used to keep in touch with friends and family. However, the scam can occur anywhere you send and receive messages from people.
Scammers create an account that appears to belong to someone already on your contact list, and message you. Posing as your friend or family member, the scammer claims to need money in an emergency situation.
Always reach out to your friend via a known social media account, email address, phone number, or in person to verify that it is indeed them contacting you before you send any money or contribute to any fundraisers at their urging.
Get a great deal on that item you need for your spring project
The plain old rip off is far from a new scam. People have been selling fake items and passing off substandard versions of the items in ads before everyone on earth today was even born. The internet just makes it especially easy to gather and post misleading images and videos. And the arrival of the latest stimulus checks, coupled with the feelings of hope and renewal everyone is clinging to this spring, makes it especially attractive to scammers right now. They know a lot of people are spending some of their stimulus money, and they know it’s a time for projects and plans.
Meet anyone you encounter in an online marketplace in a well-lit, public space before accepting any goods from them, or giving them any money, and never go to the meeting alone. Remember that you have the right to examine the item before accepting it, and are not obligated to take anything wrapped in packaging, or to make the exchange quickly. If the seller is in that big of a hurry, they can take the item back home with them and re-schedule the meeting for a more relaxed time.
When ordering online, resist pop up ads on social media. No matter where you see the ad, close the site down, open a new tab, and type in the webpage of a known, trusted retailer that sells the item.
Here’s an easy way to improve your finances after quarantine, or save up for that dream vacation this summer
It’s no secret that a lot of us are not doing our best financially right now. Performing artists haven’t been able to get many gigs, visual artists have faced galleries closed for months, and fewer people have the cash to buy albums, novels, and films. Many of us have lost day jobs and second careers as well. This can make the red flags of a job scam easy to overlook.
Today’s most popular version of the job scam is even easier to fall for, as scammers often join legitimate job sites such as LinkedIn or Indeed, posing as recruiters or hiring managers for legitimate, well-known companies. The hoax can be rather elaborate, including entire websites that appear to belong to corporations we have all heard of, such as General Electric, Microsoft, or Facebook.
Avoid these scams using the same tactic you use to avoid purchasing goods from a scam site. Click all the way out of the site. Open up a new tab, and go directly to the official site of the company in question. Search their page for their “careers” or “employment” link, and check there for the job listing. If you still are not sure, contact human resources at the company.
Welcome a new pet into your family
During the height of the quarantine, pet adoptions soared as people adopted pets to combat loneliness. Some of these adoptions resulted in the pet finding his or her forever home. Others ended with the pet being abandoned or returned. Current pet scammers are playing on the desire of true animal lovers to rescue these pets. Another common avenue is to join online groups for specific breed enthusiasts, claiming to have a dog who just had purebred or popular mixed breed puppies early this spring.
Overly staged or “perfect” photos, showing just the puppies or kittens on a pure white or pink background, or in a logo, are a strong giveaway, but don’t be swayed by more realistic looking photos, with someone’s carpet, TV, pillows, or even family members or other pets in the shot or in the background. The scammer could genuinely have the animal or litter, but just have no intention of parting with them after receiving your money, or they could be “selling” puppies from a litter that have already found homes. And it is much too easy to steal other peoples’ candid photos from various social media sites.
It is best to adopt a pet through a local humane society or established breed rescue organization, or through someone you already know well and trust offline, but if you feel strongly about a pet you see online, do your research before becoming attached, and never give anyone any money until you have the pet with you physically. The sadness of being drawn to a pet you have only seen online and finding out it was a scam is going to be a lot easier to cope with than that same feeling coupled with the loss of your money.
Scammers regularly create new scams, or reinvent or rejuvenate old ones when the time seems right for them to be particularly effective again. Keeping updated on what’s making the rounds is the first step in keeping you and your friends and family from becoming a scammer’s latest success story.
An “internet troll” can be defined as a person who posts intentionally upsetting content online with the goal of causing some type of trouble. In some cases, the troll simply enjoys manipulating people into getting upset or angry. Other trolls are seeking attention, and think diverting it from the person who would naturally be the center of attention on the page or the post is the way to get it. Still others hope to shock people, and may use crude, rude, or disgusting remarks or messages to do so. Some trolling is done by people who intend serious harm, such as ruining a friendship, relationship, or career.
Many use “trolling” to describe every type of online joking around, kidding, smarting off, or being silly. A YouTuber wears a wedding dress, or their robe, or silly makeup to the store just to see if they can make other customers and their viewers laugh, and people refer to it as “trolling” video. Or someone pretends to be in love with someone else with the target’s full knowledge and consent, or spends half the video pretending they’re on a beach vacation when they’re really laying out at their neighbor’s pool, and it’s called “trolling.” But this is more plain, old-fashioned joking, goofing off, and acting silly. True “trolling” is done with some type of selfish intent.
Nearly anyone with an online presence is going to have to deal with internet trolls at some point. Artists are especially vulnerable, as we workshop, present, share, and market so much of our work online.
Some may claim this article is unnecessary. “I just delete and block,” they will proudly proclaim. “End of story.” Of course, “delete and block” is going to be your first move when dealing with any type of internet troll. But too often, it is not the end of the story. The damaging content may be seen by fans, potential collaborators, personal friends, family, or the supervsior at your day job or very needed side gig before you even know it’s there. Content you delete and block may have already been copied and shared, or saved on somebody’s hard drive for sharing in the future. And even if the content is completely gone, trolls are perfectly capable of creating “sock puppets,” or new accounts made for the purpose of continuing their online harassment, mocking, and other crude behavior.
Here are just a few examples of “trolling” behavior, and what you can do in addition to “delete and block” to protect your online presence.
Bad reviews that don’t make sense
Everyone who does not like your work is not trolling. We are not entitled to have everyone like us, or to only hear praise.Some people are honestly not going to like your singing, playing, writing, teaching, or comedy, and they may give you an unflattering review. This is very different than bad reviews from trolls. Trolls tend to write bad reviews that attack the artist’s character or perceived character, appearance, or other detail unrelated to their work. When they do focus on the work, they usually go for sweeping generalizations such as “truly the worst guitar player of the century” when the guitar player has only released a single song so far, or insults that lack content such as“it’s not worth the money, and it’s free.”
While asking people to write good reviews for you is dishonest, there is nothing wrong with encouraging those who would already write you a good review to do so, in order to increase your webpage or product’s rating. Avoid responding directly to the troll, unless the person has posted factual errors that may impact your business. For example, if your art form is cake and pastry decorating, and you work at a restaurant, a troll might comment, “This place failed the health inspection last year” or “The meatloaf made me sick.” In those cases, responding with a simple photo of the certificate from the health inspector, or the menu showing that your restaurant does not even serve meatloaf, is all you need to do.
Personal attacks on your professional page or links from your professional page
This one can be particularly disappointing to see. You post a video of you playing your new song in a Facebook group, with a link to your Instagram, and someone comments on the Facebook group post only to inform you that they hate your Instagram page because they saw that picture of you playing at your church last year, and they hate that particular church. Or you open up comments on your band’s page, and instead of talking about your work, the latest comments are all weird remarks from someone claiming to have worked with someone in the band at Taco Bell ten years ago, and finding them egotistical.
Your first instinct is probably to defend yourself, or your bandmate, and perhaps gently remind everyone that this is your band’s page, not a religious discussion or workplace memories page. If you truly feel you must respond, do it only once. Correct the misinformation and/or the misuse of your page or link with a single comment. If the person stops they got the attention they wanted and things will settle down. If the person continues, or if others join in, this does not mean everyone is against you. A group of internet trolls just decided to use you for a little online attention for themselves. If you are online in a place that allows you to delete others’ comments, quietly delete all trolling ones. If you can’t delete others’ comments, delete your post, then re-post your content or link. This will put whatever got ruined back up, without the trolling comments. If they come back, repeat the process until they catch on that you’re not a good source of attention for them.
Free unsolicited advice that’s worth every penny you paid for it
You post in a musicians’ group asking if anyone knows of a good makeup brand that will withstand the stage lights for some upcoming performances, and someone responds not with answers like “Tarte Shape Tape” or “Jeffree Star Magic Star Powder,” but with an online lecture about how shallow you are for caring so much about your appearance.. When you point out that this isn’t what you asked about, the response is something huffy and self-righteous, along the lines of “constructive criticism not welcome, duly noted.”
In this case, a slightly snarky comeback is warranted. But don’t engage the person in an argument, or try to defend yourself. They’re seeking attention for making someone else look helpless, fragile, or stupid, and if you come across as distraught, you’re just “feeding the troll.”
“I’m really glad you were able to overcome this issue. That’s great for you. I’m really happy for you. But I need to do it this way,” turns any future comments into nothing more than evidence they don’t catch on when they’re being mocked. Once you’ve said that, carry on as though they aren’t even there.
Bizarre or disgusting posts, comments, or other online behavior
Barging into Zoom groups and shouting racial slurs or bullying the legitimate attendants of the meeting, posting nonsensical rants on Facebook groups, posting swear words or references to sexual activity in space set aside to be safe for work, or posting content intended to turn readers’ or listeners’ stomachs is an especially jarring form of trolling.
When faced with this type of behavior online, once the content is deleted and the trolls blocked, there are only two other things you can do. The behavior of complete strangers is not your fault, but fans will probably appreciate a quick “sorry you had to see/hear that” type apology anyway. The only other action you can take is to restrict page access. Set your Zoom meeting so that everyone must be vetted and given a link before logging in. Make comments require approval before being posted to your standalone page. Delete posts and re-post another copy of the ruined content to your facebook pages.
Whatever type of troll you get, never take what they say seriously. You’re dealing with someone who has the entire internet at their disposal, with its endless possibilities for learning, socializing, or even just relaxing and watching or listening to something soothing or funny. Yet all they can think of to do is hassle strangers.